Saturday, January 19, 2013

Habits are not Like Hobbits: They Don't Just Disappear

Even without magic rings, hobbits tend to disappear when one closes a book or turns off the DVD player. They may persist for a short time in the mind, but they tend to fade fairly quickly.

Habits, once formed, tend to stick around -- sometimes for one's entire life. That is one reason why it is important for children to form habits that help them to fulfill their life goals, and form them while they are still quite young.

The following is a list of useful habits that will serve a dangerous child well, at any age:

The core of the 16 habits of mind is found in the list above, and brief explanations for them are found in the embedded slideshare below. Those who are acquainted with the concept of frontal lobe "executive function" (EF) will immediately see the similarity between the 16 habits of mind, and strong frontal lobe EF.

Explanations of Habits of Mind

Habits are usually formed unconsciously, and can be very difficult to eradicate if found to be dysfunctional or destructive.

Smart psychologists understand that habits can be displaced, or substituted. Habits are thought to consist of a "cue," a "behaviour," and a "reward." The cue triggers the habitual behaviour, which supplies the reward that feeds the entire cycle.

If the person can disconnect the cue from the dysfunctional behaviour, and re-connect the cue to a more functional and less destructive behaviour which can supply a sufficient reward, the destructive habitual cycle can be displaced or substituted by a more positive habitual cycle.

Even more advanced ways of dealing with habits are being developed in mice, using optogenetics. By interfering with the infralimbic portion of the mouse's prefrontal cortex, researchers were able to break unconscious ingrained habits. But unless the habits were "overwritten" or replaced by new habits, the old habits tended to return.

It is best to learn good habits from the very beginning. That is one reason why many of the most enlightened parents put strict limits on exposure to television, video games, and other popular entertainments, until the child has developed strong habits of self direction and goal fulfillment.

Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind is a book edited by two educators, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, found here. An important caveat regarding the book: Like most modern cogs in the machine of modern educational theory, Costa and Kallick appear to be caught up in the "blank slate" delusion of thinking which was refuted so effectively by Steven Pinker, in his book "The Blank Slate." If the reader is able to understand that this underlying philosophical and biological confusion underlies many of the confused ideas which are mixed in with a number of useful ideas about habits of learning, a quick scan of the book can be worthwhile.

Otherwise, a study of prefrontal lobe executive function is likely to be much more satisfying and edifying, if the reader is easily able to apply the ideas to childhood learning and development.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Concepts in Mental Development: Limits to Cognition

Children are not taught, they learn. How well and how much they will learn depends upon the skills that they master, long before they are aware that they are learning. Whether or not they have the chance to master those skills depends upon their caretakers.

Even the best of us is limited in what we can learn and what we can conceive. Such limitations applied to Albert Einstein and they apply to you, and your dangerous child. But all of us can learn ways to push against our limits, if we wish. Most people never come close.

The video above, "Cognitive Limits," is a useful introduction to the cognitive science of human learning and memory.

Concepts of "Attention and Memory" are key to understanding how a relatively inexperienced and ignorant human infant can develop into a skilled walking and talking toddler who is into everything he can reach, learning and remembering as he goes.

Everyone is limited in what he can hold in his short-term working memory -- some more limited than others. Likewise, each person is limited as to how many active thinking processes he can maintain simultaneously -- how many dynamic activities he can keep track of.

Brief intro. to Cognitive Load Theory:
In essence, cognitive load theory proposes that since working memory is limited, learners may be bombarded by information and, if the complexity of their instructional materials is not properly managed, this will result in a cognitive overload. This cognitive overload impairs schema acquisition, later resulting in a lower performance (Sweller, 1988). Cognitive load theory had a theoretical precedence in the educational and psychological literature, well before Sweller’s 1988 article (e.g. Beatty, 1977; Marsh, 1978). Even Baddeley and Hitch (1974) considered “concurrent memory load” but Sweller’s cognitive load theory was among the first to consider working memory, as it related to learning and the design of instruction...

...Schema acquisition is the ultimate goal of cognitive load theory. Anderson’s ACT framework proposes initial schema acquisition occurs by the development of schema-based production rules, but these production rules may be developed by one of two methods (Anderson, Fincham, & Douglass, 1997), either by developing these rules during practice or by studying examples. The second method (studying examples) is the most cognitively efficient method of instruction (Sweller & Chandler, 1985; Cooper and Sweller, 1987; Paas and van MerriĆ«nboer, 1993). This realization became one of the central tenets of cognitive load theory.

Once learners have acquired a schema, those patterns of behavior (schemas) may be practiced to promote skill automation (Anderson, 1982; Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977; Sweller, 1993) but expertise occurs much later in the process, and is when a learner automates complex cognitive skills (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977), usually via problem solving. _Cognitive Load Theory

Reference examples for the deeply interested who have a research bent:

Cognitive Bottleneck in Multitasking (PDF)

Dynamic Competition and the Cognitive Bottleneck (PDF)

Advanced educators not only try to introduce useful "schemas" to the learner -- they also try to choose conceptual schemas that will be useful in multiple contexts:
Students do not automatically connect, apply, or extrapolate what they know to other learning contexts. So what foundations can we put in place to ensure we are dong the best we can to nurture conceptual understanding and seek its transfer to new contexts? Here is my attempt to map out a few strategies that work for me:
  1. Make transfer the big goal of conceptual teaching and learning – always have ideas in mind about how students can transfer their conceptual understandings and skills to new contexts.
  2. Concepts over content – think big picture not activities. The exploration of concepts during collaborative teacher planning sessions will lead to a multitude of activities that can be applied in the classroom – the activities will always take care of themselves!
  3. Less is more – working with fewer conceptual understandings means that you can use and extend the knowledge and skills students present in a meaningful, formative way – be mindful.
  4. Prior knowledge – Take the time to nurture student’s interest and avenues into the concepts you are teaching.
  5. Authentic assessment – map out the formative and summative assessment opportunities that are likely to arise through the teaching and learning experiences. Through these opportunities, challenge student’s misconceptions, stereotypes and tendencies toward rigid thinking.
  6. Levels of transfer – transfer can happen on a “near” level where contexts can be very similar, or transfer can happen on a “far” level where the context is more abstract and removed from the original learning, some learners are natural abstract thinkers, others are not.
  7. Think discriminatively – be measured about when opportunities arise for students to apply transfer, be mindful about when you can make it happen authentically, create opportunities for success and not failure.
  8. Value thinking, nurture it and make it visible – train and engage students in a variety of daily thinking routines, use Socratic questioning in discussions to connect new ideas with existing knowledge. Metacognition, metacognition, metacognition!!
  9. Nurture the potential of transfer in younger students – (EY- G1) value and reflect upon the meaning of children’s connections in collaboration with others. Make children’s connections visible and a part of discussion for other learners.
  10. Homework – getting students to apply what they are learning in class and explore the meaning of concepts to their own lives can provide rich and diverse opportunities for transfer. Infinitely more valuable than completing worksheets!
_Conceptual Learning in Classroom
In terms of modern classroom educational practise, many of these ideas are more useful than a lot of what one sees -- if they are ever applied in anything but the rare, ideal classroom setting, which is unlikely.

More commonly, the best of theoretical intentions go badly awry when the rubber meets the road. This is particularly true when the masses of teachers attempt to implement the conceptual ideas and schemas of theorists, most of which they themselves only vaguely comprehend.

Remember: The teacher does not teach. Instead, the learner learns. If the learner's mind is not structured and ready to learn the concept for the day, it will not matter how well the teacher has prepared his lesson.

The learning mind must be "empowered" from the earliest age, and continuously reinforced -- until it is the child himself who is doing the reinforcing. This self-reinforcement occurs at different ages for different children -- even under the most ideal conditions. Young Mozart, for example, required much less external reinforcement to achieve a given level of mastery than did young Salieri.

So far, we have skipped around one of the central issues: how to learn difficult concepts which do not come naturally to most children. We know that boosting self-esteem doesn't work for that. We know that paying a cash reward doesn't work. Even the promise of sensory pleasure and euphoric mind states are limited in how well they will expand the learner's conceptual grasp, within apparently innate cognitive and conceptual limits.

But we must learn to walk before we learn to run a marathon up a mountain. This is a blog, not a textbook. Our approach will necessarily seem a bit scattered and of variable depth. Readers may choose to stop reading and abandon the quest at any time, without penalty.

That is not necessarily the case for those who work at the Al Fin Dangerous Child Institute.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Essential Thinking Skills for the Dangerous Child

This is the first entry in what will be a short introduction to thinking skills for dangerous children. Here we are looking at different ways in which thinking and the expression of ideas can go wrong.

A dangerous child must learn about the weak points in human cognition, belief, and judgment. These are cognitive and decision-making biases, which are generally built-in to the human cognitive apparatus. These weaknesses cannot be ignored, but must be faced and compensated for, as much as possible, when faced with important decisions.

The following list is from Wikipedia, providing a more complete set of biases in decision-making and beliefs.

Remember that these biases are listed and clarified by individuals who themselves are subject to systematic thinking biases.

Many of these biases affect belief formation, business and economic decisions, and human behavior in general. They arise as a replicable result to a specific condition: when confronted with a specific situation, the deviation from what is normatively expected can be characterized by:
  • Ambiguity effect – the tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem "unknown."[8]
  • Anchoring or focalism – the tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on a past reference or on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.
  • Attentional bias – the tendency to pay attention to emotionally dominant stimuli in one's environment and to neglect relevant data, when making judgments of a correlation or association.
  • Availability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater "availability" in memory, which can be influenced by how recent the memories are, or how unusual or emotionally charged they may be.
  • Availability cascade – a self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or "repeat something long enough and it will become true").
  • Backfire effect – when people react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening their beliefs.[9]
  • Bandwagon effect – the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behavior.
  • Base rate fallacy or base rate neglect – the tendency to base judgments on specifics, ignoring general statistical information.[10]
  • Belief bias – an effect where someone's evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion.[11]
  • Bias blind spot – the tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.[12]
  • Choice-supportive bias – the tendency to remember one's choices as better than they actually were.[13]
  • Clustering illusion – the tendency to over-expect small runs, streaks or clusters in large samples of random data
  • Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information or memories in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.[14]
  • Congruence bias – the tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, instead of testing possible alternative hypotheses.
  • Conjunction fallacy – the tendency to assume that specific conditions are more probable than general ones.[15]
  • Conservatism or regressive bias – tendency to underestimate high values and high likelihoods/probabilities/frequencies and overestimate low ones. Based on the observed evidence, estimates are not extreme enough[16][17][18]
  • Conservatism (Bayesian) – the tendency to revise belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence (estimates of conditional probabilities are conservative)[16][19][20]
  • Contrast effect – the enhancement or diminishing of a weight or other measurement when compared with a recently observed contrasting object.[21]
  • Curse of knowledge – when knowledge of a topic diminishes one's ability to think about it from a less-informed perspective.
  • Decoy effect – preferences change when there is a third option that is asymmetrically dominated
  • Denomination effect – the tendency to spend more money when it is denominated in small amounts (e.g. coins) rather than large amounts (e.g. bills).[22]
  • Distinction bias – the tendency to view two options as more dissimilar when evaluating them simultaneously than when evaluating them separately.[23]
  • Duration neglect – the neglect of the duration of an episode in determining its value
  • Empathy gap – the tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others.
  • Endowment effect – the fact that people often demand much more to give up an object than they would be willing to pay to acquire it.[24]
  • Essentialism – categorizing people and things according to their essential nature, in spite of variations.[25]
  • Exaggerated expectation – based on the estimates, real-world evidence turns out to be less extreme than our expectations (conditionally inverse of the conservatism bias).[16][26]
  • Experimenter's or expectation bias – the tendency for experimenters to believe, certify, and publish data that agree with their expectations for the outcome of an experiment, and to disbelieve, discard, or downgrade the corresponding weightings for data that appear to conflict with those expectations.[27]
  • False-consensus effect - the tendency of a person to overestimate how much other people agree with him or her.
  • Functional fixedness - limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used
  • Focusing effect – the tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of an event; causes error in accurately predicting the utility of a future outcome.[28]
  • Forer effect or Barnum effect – the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some beliefs and practices, such as astrology, fortune telling, graphology, and some types of personality tests.
  • Framing effect – drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how or by whom that information is presented.
  • Frequency illusion – the illusion in which a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one's attention suddenly appears "everywhere" with improbable frequency (see also recency illusion).[29]
  • Gambler's fallacy – the tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in reality they are unchanged. Results from an erroneous conceptualization of the law of large numbers. For example, "I've flipped heads with this coin five times consecutively, so the chance of tails coming out on the sixth flip is much greater than heads."
  • Hard-easy effect – Based on a specific level of task difficulty, the confidence in judgments is too conservative and not extreme enough[16][30][31][32]
  • Hindsight bias – sometimes called the "I-knew-it-all-along" effect, the tendency to see past events as being predictable[33] at the time those events happened. Colloquially referred to as "Hindsight is 20/20".
  • Hostile media effect – the tendency to see a media report as being biased, owing to one's own strong partisan views.
  • Hot-hand fallacy - The "hot-hand fallacy" (also known as the "hot hand phenomenon" or "hot hand") is the fallacious belief that a person who has experienced success has a greater chance of further success in additional attempts
  • Hyperbolic discounting – the tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs, where the tendency increases the closer to the present both payoffs are.[34]
  • Illusion of control – the tendency to overestimate one's degree of influence over other external events.[35]
  • Illusion of validity – when consistent but predictively weak data leads to confident predictions
  • Illusory correlation – inaccurately perceiving a relationship between two unrelated events.[36][37]
  • Impact bias – the tendency to overestimate the length or the intensity of the impact of future feeling states.[38]
  • Information bias – the tendency to seek information even when it cannot affect action.[39]
  • Insensitivity to sample size – the tendency to under-expect variation in small samples
  • Irrational escalation – the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.
  • Just-world hypothesis – the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just, causing them to rationalize an otherwise inexplicable injustice as deserved by the victim(s).
  • Less-is-better effect – a preference reversal where a dominated smaller set is preferred to a larger set
  • Loss aversion – "the disutility of giving up an object is greater than the utility associated with acquiring it".[40] (see also Sunk cost effects and endowment effect).
  • Ludic fallacy - the misuse of games to model real-life situations.
  • Mere exposure effect – the tendency to express undue liking for things merely because of familiarity with them.[41]
  • Money illusion – the tendency to concentrate on the nominal (face value) of money rather than its value in terms of purchasing power.[42]
  • Moral credential effect – the tendency of a track record of non-prejudice to increase subsequent prejudice.
  • Negativity bias – the tendency to pay more attention and give more weight to negative than positive experiences or other kinds of information.
  • Neglect of probability – the tendency to completely disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty.[43]
  • Nonsense math effect - the tendency to judge information containing equations higher regardless the quality of them. [44]
  • Normalcy bias – the refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before.
  • Observer-expectancy effect – when a researcher expects a given result and therefore unconsciously manipulates an experiment or misinterprets data in order to find it (see also subject-expectancy effect).
  • Omission bias – the tendency to judge harmful actions as worse, or less moral, than equally harmful omissions (inactions).[45]
  • Optimism bias – the tendency to be over-optimistic, overestimating favorable and pleasing outcomes (see also wishful thinkingvalence effectpositive outcome bias).[46][47]
  • Ostrich effect – ignoring an obvious (negative) situation.
  • Outcome bias – the tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made.
  • Overconfidence effect – excessive confidence in one's own answers to questions. For example, for certain types of questions, answers that people rate as "99% certain" turn out to be wrong 40% of the time.[16][48][49][50]
  • Pareidolia – a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) is perceived as significant, e.g., seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing non-existent hidden messages on records played in reverse.
  • Pessimism bias – the tendency for some people, especially those suffering from depression, to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening to them.
  • Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times.[38]
  • Post-purchase rationalization – the tendency to persuade oneself through rational argument that a purchase was a good value.
  • Pro-innovation bias – the tendency to reflect a personal bias towards an invention/innovation, while often failing to identify limitations and weaknesses or address the possibility of failure.
  • Pseudocertainty effect – the tendency to make risk-averse choices if the expected outcome is positive, but make risk-seeking choices to avoid negative outcomes.[51]
  • Reactance – the urge to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do out of a need to resist a perceived attempt to constrain your freedom of choice (see also Reverse psychology).
  • Reactive devaluation – devaluing proposals that are no longer hypothetical or purportedly originated with an adversary.
  • Recency bias – a cognitive bias that results from disproportionate salience attributed to recent stimuli or observations – the tendency to weigh recent events more than earlier events (see also peak-end rulerecency effect).
  • Recency illusion – the illusion that a phenomenon, typically a word or language usage, that one has just begun to notice is a recent innovation (see also frequency illusion).
  • Restraint bias – the tendency to overestimate one's ability to show restraint in the face of temptation.
  • Rhyme as reason effect – rhyming statements are perceived as more truthful. A famous example being used in the O.J Simpson trial with the defenses use of the phrase "If the gloves don't fit then you must acquit."
  • Risk compensation / Peltzman effect – the tendency to take greater risks when perceived safety increases.
  • Selective perception – the tendency for expectations to affect perception.
  • Semmelweis reflex – the tendency to reject new evidence that contradicts a paradigm.[52]
  • Selection bias - the distortion of a statistical analysis, resulting from the method of collecting samples. If the selection bias is not taken into account then certain conclusions drawn may be wrong.
  • Social comparison bias – the tendency, when making hiring decisions, to favour potential candidates who don't compete with one's own particular strengths.[53]
  • Social desirability bias - the tendency to over-report socially desirable characteristics or behaviours and under-report socially undesirable characteristics or behaviours.[54]
  • Status quo bias – the tendency to like things to stay relatively the same (see also loss aversion, endowment effect, and system justification).[55][56]
  • Stereotyping – expecting a member of a group to have certain characteristics without having actual information about that individual.
  • Subadditivity effect – the tendency to estimate that the likelihood of an event is less than the sum of its (more than two) mutually exclusive components.[57]
  • Subjective validation – perception that something is true if a subject's belief demands it to be true. Also assigns perceived connections between coincidences.
  • Survivorship bias - concentrating on the people or things that "survived" some process and inadvertently overlooking those that didn't because of their lack of visibility.
  • Texas sharpshooter fallacy - pieces of information that have no relationship to one another are called out for their similarities, and that similarity is used for claiming the existence of a pattern.
  • Time-saving bias – underestimations of the time that could be saved (or lost) when increasing (or decreasing) from a relatively low speed and overestimations of the time that could be saved (or lost) when increasing (or decreasing) from a relatively high speed.
  • Unit bias – the tendency to want to finish a given unit of a task or an item. Strong effects on the consumption of food in particular.[58]
  • Well travelled road effect – underestimation of the duration taken to traverse oft-traveled routes and overestimation of the duration taken to traverse less familiar routes.
  • Zero-risk bias – preference for reducing a small risk to zero over a greater reduction in a larger risk.
  • Zero-sum heuristic – Intuitively judging a situation to be zero-sum (i.e., that gains and losses are correlated). Derives from the zero-sum game in game theory, where wins and losses sum to zero.[59][60] The frequency with which this bias occurs may be related to the social dominance orientation personality factor.

___Wikipedia List of Biases in Judgment and Decision Making

Dangerous children must likewise learn to recognise logical fallacies, which introduce a lack of soundness or validity into a logical chain of argument.

Keep in mind that everyone is subject to indulging in fallacy from time to time. If you look closely, you will find fallacious arguments buried in the explanations and examples of some of the fallacies in the list below:
ad hominem: Latin for "to the man." An arguer who uses ad hominems attacks the person instead of the argument. Whenever an arguer cannot defend his position with evidence, facts or reason, he or she may resort to attacking an opponent either through: labeling, straw man arguments, name calling, offensive remarks and anger.

appeal to ignorance (argumentum ex silentio) appealing to ignorance as evidence for something. (e.g., We have no evidence that God doesn't exist, therefore, he must exist. Or: Because we have no knowledge of alien visitors, that means they do not exist). Ignorance about something says nothing about its existence or non-existence.

argument from omniscience: (e.g., All people believe in something. Everyone knows that.) An arguer would need omniscience to know about everyone's beliefs or disbeliefs or about their knowledge. Beware of words like "all," "everyone," "everything," "absolute."

appeal to faith: (e.g., if you have no faith, you cannot learn) if the arguer relies on faith as the bases of his argument, then you can gain little from further discussion. Faith, by definition, relies on a belief that does not rest on logic or evidence. Faith depends on irrational thought and produces intransigence.

appeal to tradition (similar to the bandwagon fallacy): (e.g., astrology, religion, slavery) just because people practice a tradition, says nothing about its viability.

argument from authority (argumentum ad verecundiam): using the words of an "expert" or authority as the bases of the argument instead of using the logic or evidence that supports an argument. (e.g., Professor so-and-so believes in creation-science.) Simply because an authority makes a claim does not necessarily mean he got it right. If an arguer presents the testimony from an expert, look to see if it accompanies reason and sources of evidence behind it.

Appeal to consequences (argumentum ad consequentiam): an argument that concludes a premise (usually a belief) as either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences. Example: some religious people believe that knowledge of evolution leads to immorality, therefore evolution proves false. Even if teaching evolution did lead to immorality, it would not imply a falsehood of evolution.

argument from adverse consequences: (e.g., We should judge the accused as guilty, otherwise others will commit similar crimes) Just because a repugnant crime or act occurred, does not necessarily mean that a defendant committed the crime or that we should judge him guilty. (Or: disasters occur because God punishes non-believers; therefore, we should all believe in God) Just because calamities or tragedies occur, says nothing about the existence of gods or that we should believe in a certain way.

argumentum ad baculum: An argument based on an appeal to fear or a threat. (e.g., If you don't believe in God, you'll burn in hell)

argumentum ad ignorantiam: A misleading argument used in reliance on people's ignorance.

argumentum ad populum: An argument aimed to sway popular support by appealing to sentimental weakness rather than facts and reasons.

bandwagon fallacy: concluding that an idea has merit simply because many people believe it or practice it. (e.g., Most people believe in a god; therefore, it must prove true.) Simply because many people may believe something says nothing about the fact of that something. For example many people during the Black plague believed that demons caused disease. The number of believers say nothing at all about the cause of disease.

begging the question (or assuming the answer): (e.g., We must encourage our youth to worship God to instill moral behavior.) But does religion and worship actually produce moral behavior?

circular reasoning: stating in one's proposition that which one aims to prove. (e.g. God exists because the Bible says so; the Bible exists because God influenced it.)

composition fallacy: when the conclusion of an argument depends on an erroneous characteristic from parts of something to the whole or vice versa. (e.g., Humans have consciousness and human bodies and brains consist of atoms; therefore, atoms have consciousness. Or: a word processor program consists of many bytes; therefore a byte forms a fraction of a word processor.)

confirmation bias (similar to observational selection): This refers to a form of selective thinking that focuses on evidence that supports what believers already believe while ignoring evidence that refutes their beliefs. Confirmation bias plays a stronger role when people base their beliefs upon faith, tradition and prejudice. For example, if someone believes in the power of prayer, the believer will notice the few "answered" prayers while ignoring the majority of unanswered prayers (which would indicate that prayer has no more value than random chance at worst or a placebo effect, when applied to health effects, at best).

confusion of correlation and causation: (e.g., More men play chess than women, therefore, men make better chess players than women. Or: Children who watch violence on TV tend to act violently when they grow up.) But does television programming cause violence or do violence oriented children prefer to watch violent programs? Perhaps an entirely different reason creates violence not related to television at all. Stephen Jay Gould called the invalid assumption that correlation implies cause as "probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning" (The Mismeasure of Man).

excluded middle (or false dichotomy): considering only the extremes. Many people use Aristotelian either/or logic tending to describe in terms of up/down, black/white, true/false, love/hate, etc. (e.g., You either like it or you don't. He either stands guilty or not guilty.) Many times, a continuum occurs between the extremes that people fail to see. The universe also contains many "maybes."

half truths (suppressed evidence): A statement usually intended to deceive that omits some of the facts necessary for an accurate description.

loaded questions: embodies an assumption that, if answered, indicates an implied agreement. (e.g., Have you stopped beating your wife yet?)

meaningless question: (e.g., "How high is up?" "Is everything possible?") "Up" describes a direction, not a measurable entity. If everything proved possible, then the possibility exists for the impossible, a contradiction. Although everything may not prove possible, there may occur an infinite number of possibilities as well as an infinite number of impossibilities. Many meaningless questions include empty words such as "is," "are," "were," "was," "am," "be," or "been."

misunderstanding the nature of statistics: (e.g., the majority of people in the United States die in hospitals, therefore, stay out of them.) "Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive." -- Wallace Irwin

non sequitur: Latin for "It does not follow." An inference or conclusion that does not follow from established premises or evidence. (e.g., there occured an increase of births during the full moon. Conclusion: full moons cause birth rates to rise.) But does a full moon actually cause more births, or did it occur for other reasons, perhaps from expected statistical variations?

no true Christian (no true Scotsman): an informal logical fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with an example, rather than denying it, this fallacy excludes the specific case without reference to any objective rule. Example: Many Christians in history have started wars. Reply: Well no true Christian would ever start a war.

observational selection (similar to confirmation bias): pointing out favorable circumstances while ignoring the unfavorable. Anyone who goes to Las Vegas gambling casinos will see people winning at the tables and slots. The casino managers make sure to install bells and whistles to announce the victors, while the losers never get mentioned. This may lead one to conclude that the chances of winning appear good while in actually just the reverse holds true.

post hoc, ergo propter hoc: Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by." Similar to a non sequitur, but time dependent. (e.g. She got sick after she visited China, so something in China caused her sickness.) Perhaps her sickness derived from something entirely independent from China.

proving non-existence: when an arguer cannot provide the evidence for his claims, he may challenge his opponent to prove it doesn't exist (e.g., prove God doesn't exist; prove UFO's haven't visited earth, etc.). Although one may prove non-existence in special limitations, such as showing that a box does not contain certain items, one cannot prove universal or absolute non-existence, or non-existence out of ignorance. One cannot prove something that does not exist. The proof of existence must come from those who make the claims.

red herring: when the arguer diverts the attention by changing the subject.

reification fallacy: when people treat an abstract belief or hypothetical construct as if it represented a concrete event or physical entity. Examples: IQ tests as an actual measure of intelligence; the concept of race (even though genetic attributes exist), from the chosen combination of attributes or the labeling of a group of people, come from abstract social constructs; Astrology; god(s); Jesus; Santa Claus, black race, white race, etc.

slippery slope: a change in procedure, law, or action, will result in adverse consequences. (e.g., If we allow doctor assisted suicide, then eventually the government will control how we die.) It does not necessarily follow that just because we make changes that a slippery slope will occur.

special pleading: the assertion of new or special matter to offset the opposing party's allegations. A presentation of an argument that emphasizes only a favorable or single aspect of the question at issue. (e.g. How can God create so much suffering in the world? Answer: You have to understand that God moves in mysterious ways and we have no privilege to this knowledge. Or: Horoscopes work, but you have to understand the theory behind it.)

statistics of small numbers: similar to observational selection (e.g., My parents smoked all their lives and they never got cancer. Or: I don't care what others say about Yugos, my Yugo has never had a problem.) Simply because someone can point to a few favorable numbers says nothing about the overall chances.

straw man: creating a false or made up scenario and then attacking it. (e.g., Evolutionists think that everything came about by random chance.) Most evolutionists think in terms of natural selection which may involve incidental elements, but does not depend entirely on random chance. Painting your opponent with false colors only deflects the purpose of the argument. (From the email that I get on this appears as the most common fallacy of all.)

two wrongs make a right: trying to justify what we did by accusing someone else of doing the same. (e.g. how can you judge my actions when you do exactly the same thing?) The guilt of the accuser has no relevance to the discussion.

Use-mention error: confusing a word or a concept with something that supposedly exists. For example an essay on THE HISTORY OF GOD does not refer to an actual god, but rather the history of the concept of god in human culture. (To avoid confusion, people usually put the word or phrase in quotations. _Common Fallacies
The best age to learn logical fallacies will depend upon the mental development of the child. If the child enjoys solving word puzzles or riddles, he is likely to be ready to learn the logical fallacies.

Teaching children how to think clearly can be threatening to government school teachers and religious teachers, who do not generally tolerate being questioned. That is why rational thinking is not often taught in government schools and is too rarely taught in private schools as well.

Parents who homeschool their progeny to become Dangerous Children had best get used to being questioned (and sometimes shown to be wrong) as early in the training as possible, and learn how to cope with the way it makes you feel.

Remember: Everything you think you know, just ain't so. If you can accept being a human being in possession of a necessarily frail cognitive mechanism, you may be able to understand the need to improve the tools of thought with each new generation.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Even the Manhattan Smart Set Is Adopting Homeschooling

In the face of rampant school corruption and ineptitude in the NYC system, smarter NYC parents are beginning to see the virtues of homeschooling. Here is a personal account from one such NYC parent:
The city’s public schools are underfunded, overcrowded, and perpetually in turnaround. District boundaries governing enrollment change from one year to the next, as do standards for admission to gifted programs and “citywide” schools, accept­ance to which is determined by children’s scores on tests whose educational relevance is questionable. Meanwhile, middle-­class parents are priced out of districts midway through their children’s education, as people a few rungs higher up the ladder move to neighborhoods with acclaimed public schools (the West Village, Park Slope) and put the half-million they would have spent on private schools toward the mortgage.

...We had considered our options: Lenora could go back to work in the shrinking field of newspapering, with her salary enabling us to move to a neighborhood with better schools; or she could work full-time on our children’s education, teaching them and organizing classes with other families, while we relied on my income as a book editor and part-time professor. She was eager for us to school our children ourselves, and persuasive about why we should do so. I had been raised on the cult, creed, and dogma of public school, and this felt like leaving the fold. But given our other choices, it was worth a try.

That first year, chatting with other homeschooling parents at soccer games, picnics, and after-church coffee hours, I found that our decision was far from unusual. Homeschooling has long been a philosophical choice for religious traditionalists and off-the-grid homesteaders, but for the parents we met—among them several actors, a jazz composer, a restaurateur, a TV chef, a Columbia University physical-plant supervisor, and a handful of college professors—it was a practical alternative to New York’s notoriously inadequate education system.

...On a normal day in our Brooklyn apartment, I teach math first thing, then go to an office space in a different neighborhood. Lenora picks up from there, teaching American and world history, language arts, geography, and penmanship, depending on the day. She and the boys then set out into the city for science at the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; history at the Queens County Farm Museum or the Wyckoff Farmhouse, in Brooklyn; or art at the Metropolitan Museum.

Some of these programs are free. Some are organized cooperatively, with different parents leading sessions on subjects of special interest to them. Others involve weekly classes for a fee. A class at the Center for Architecture Foundation, in Greenwich Village, teaches children the history of a place—­medieval Europe, Federal-era New York—through its architecture. An eight-week course costs about $140, depending on the number of students: not cheap, but not a $100-a-day, five-day-a-week private-school bill (and participating parents sometimes pool their resources to cover tuition for a child whose family can’t quite afford it). One homeschool soccer program is led, on a Hudson River pier, by an ace coach whose schedule is light in the hours before “regular” schools let out. Cost: $5 a week. _Homeschool Diary
Although the NYC schools are probably not yet as corrupt as those in communist China, they are more than bad enough to give a loving and conscientious parent second thoughts about trusting their beloved children to the system.

And school systems in most other US metropolitan systems are not much better -- and many are worse.

Of course, these trendy yuppie homeschoolers would faint dead at the thought of raising their little darlings as Dangerous Children. But in the near future, that may be the only choice that makes any sense, for parents who truly love their children.

As long as dysfunctional leadership and malignant governmental policies control the system, the system cannot self-correct, and heal itself from the inside.